This is part 3 in a series. For part 1, click HERE. For part 2, click HERE.
On day 3, we planned to meet some friends who have a house in Guanajuato where they go in the summers to avoid the Baja heat. We left Leon early so we would have time to stop at the sanctuary of Cristo Rey first. This is one of the most significant places in the country for the people of Mexico. The monument is on the top of the highest mountain in the state of Guanajuato.
Halfway up the mountain is a church dedicated to the martyrs of the Cristero War. Very few Americans know about this war, but it was similar to our civil war, and has the same lingering trauma in the hearts of the people. Last year a major movie was made telling the story, so if you like to see your history instead of reading it, check it out.
The Mexican government was headed by an atheist who hated the Church, and many priests and lay people were executed. The three martyrs above all came from the the area around Silao, the nearest city. Silao is a very prosperous city with large manufacturing plants - very modern and American in appearance - and it was sobering to realize that less than a hundred years ago people in that area were being persecuted and killed by their government because of their faith.
The road to the top of the mountain is made completely of cobblestone - 6 miles of it - so it takes awhile to get there, especially since there are a lot of buses and large trucks full of groups of pilgrims on the road. Before the church and monument come into view you pass lots of little tiendas selling food, perched rather precariously between the road and the more-or-less sheer drop off of the mountain. The monument is huge - that round thing that the statue is standing on is the cupola of the church! This place, which is right at the geographic center of mainland Mexico, was built to keep the memory of the cause of the Cristero War alive [freedom of religion, folks] and to be a place of continual (24/7) prayer for the peace of Mexico.
We arrived just in time for mass. The church was filled with seminarians from Leon along with other pilgrims. When I looked up and saw this massive crown of thorns encircling the whole interior space I just about lost it. As we were leaving, the priest who had officiated was standing by our car and he called out to Padre, "Francisco Javier!" It turned out that he was Padre's parish priest when Padre was a boy, and they hadn't seen each other since then. And the older priest remembered Padre's name!
Onward and downward to Guanajuato...
...which is like an ancient European town, built in a canyon with most of the "streets" too narrow to drive vehicles on, and LOTS of little plazas, each with a fountain, from the time when people didn't have running water in their homes.
This is Arlene (on the left) - the friend we came to visit. When I first met her in the town where we live, we discovered that she had grown up with my daughter-in-law Rhonda's parents....small world! She's carrying a bag of garbage from her house; they (along with everyone else) have to hand carry all their garbage down the hill to a small garbage collection chute because garbage trucks can't get up the narrow and steep pedestrian walkways which are main thoroughfares around Guanajuato.
We wandered around town for awhile, with me admiring all the stone walls (my favorite tourist attraction!). Then we took a bus up to the mine where Guanajuato's wealth came from. This amazing mine yielded gold, silver, copper, and other precious ores, and brought fabulous riches to the town. Before the guys did the mine tour (it was too strenuous for my taste), we all went to see the church that the mine owners had built at the top of the hill.
This is a H.U.G.E retablo behind the altar (I hope you're clicking on the links to find out more about things). The entire thing is covered in 18k gold leaf! But there was plenty more where that came from...
So the guys had to do the mine tour, which was providential because that gave Arlene and her husband Glen and I a chance to talk about the history of the Church and other fascinating topics (at least they are to me!). Once the guys got back we went back down to the town center and had a fabulous dinner at Arlene and Glen's favorite restaurant, Mestizo. The owner of the restaurant is a painter, potter, and glass blower and has a gallery room next to the dining room with all the things he's made. Impressive!
By this time it was evening and time for Padre to take us back to his family's house, but we agreed to come back the next day and take Glen and Arlene with us on a trip to San Miguel de Allende.
To be continued...